The character or characters are undergoing some special training, usually military in nature. During a critical evaluation or test (often the "final exam" for the program they are in) something goes horribly wrong, and they find themselves alone and in hostile territory (or a disaster situation). Without their instructor(s) or any hope of help from their command structure, they must fight or finagle their way to a point where they can be rescued. When they make it, they discover that the entire experience — complete with the accident that set the disaster in motion — was
the exam, planned and staged completely in order to see what their response would be to a real
crisis or combat situation. Sometimes it's intended to weed out the unfit members of the class as well.
There are non-military variations, including all manner of emergencies for forest rangers, paramedics, firefighters and the like. This gambit requires a cold-blooded commander, or the ability to whisk an injured student out of danger without alerting the remaining testees.
A type of False Crucible
. The civvie version is The Game Never Stopped
Sometimes incorporates a Secret Test of Character
. May result in the instructors deciding it was a Career Building Blunder
The Genre Savvy
in the audience can spot this very quickly.
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Anime and Manga
- This is the basis of the first few issues of Wildguard, where the hopefuls for a superhero reality show are abducted by aliens, leaving only the latecomers and the few who managed to evade capture to save them. Not coincidentally, all of the people who eventually made the team were chosen from that rescue party (unless you don't count Red Rover, the only hero to escape unaided).
- Star Wars Expanded Universe:
- The X-Wing book Wraith Squadron has a mission like this, when the fighter pilots come under attack as soon as they leave their hangar. Subverted in that the characters realize instantly that this must be part of the test, because they are fully aware that the whole thing is a simulation, and one of the pilots is quite miffed that they went to the trouble to give him specific objectives, then immediately rendered them pointless.
- Elsewhere in the EU, an anthology called Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina has an AT-AT walker pilot-in-training finally given the chance to use the real thing, instead of just another highly realistic simulator run. It's mentioned that only the very best pilots actually get to graduate as AT-AT pilots, and he's at the top of his class. He's got a superior standing by just in case, but the superior suddenly disappears when the trainee's sensors pick up on approaching airspeeders. The trainee makes the walker drop to its knees and then picks off the attackers. After that, the viewports dim, the superior comes back, and the trainee realizes that this was a test. Later the head Imperial in charge of walkers who was in The Empire Strikes Back congratulates him and asks why he made his AT-AT kneel. The trainee says that he's figured out that the legs and bellies of a walker are vulnerable to the cannons mounted on airspeeders and snubfighters. The head Imperial freezes up; he desperately does not want anyone to know that there are weaknesses like that in his walkers. Then the trainee gets shunted into the stormtrooper corps, and he's the sandtrooper who said "Look sir, droids!" in A New Hope.
- Star Trek Starfleet Academy teen series:
- In one book, Geordi Laforge is a cadet on a ship with a whole class and given orders to remain in one room until further notice. Suddenly, the ship shakes, some explosion is heard and a Red Alert is called. Most of the cadets rush out to help the crew, but Geordi hesitates considering he sees nothing amiss out of a window. At the end, the alert is canceled and the departed cadets are returned to the room and reamed out by the instructor for flunking a test. As it turns out, the experience was a simulation to see if the cadets would obey their orders (defying them in a real situation due to panic would create a distraction to the ship's trained crew). As it is, Geordi is one of only a few cadets who obeyed those orders.
- To contrast, at another point in the series passing the test requires the cadet to leave the room despite being ordered to remain- the difference being that in that case, there was a good reason to leave the room
- In the first book of the series, Worf goes through one of these during a field trip. The station they are on begins to break down and will be destroyed, resulting in all of their deaths. Just before the big explosion, it's revealed the whole thing is in a holodeck. The idea was to test their ability to work as a team and face danger.
- Robert A. Heinlein's juvenile novel Tunnel in the Sky. The "mission", a final exam for a survival training course, is supposed to take three to five days. Eventually it becomes obvious that there's been some kind of horrible mistake, but for the initial week or so the characters theorize that this may just be more of the test.
- In Space Cadet a rocketship explodes on takeoff and it's suggested by the Jerk Ass character that it was a fake meant to shake up the recruits. It's not though.
- Subverted in Tanya Huff's The Heart of Valor. The training planet Crucible is supposed to work this way, but the tests turn out to be genuinely sabotaged.
- A borderline example is in the Codex Alera book Furies of Calderon: Amara's final exam is to successfully infiltrate a rebel camp with her mentor, Fidelias, to discover the identity of the traitor; unfortunately Fidelias is a traitor and turns her in. Fortunately she escapes and when she talks to the First Lord, she finds out that the First Lord suspected Fidelias was a traitor and the test was mainly to be sure of that (though he also wanted the intelligence) and to see if she would make it through without dying or turning traitor.
- In the Arthur C. Clarke juvenile novel Islands in the Sky an instructor aboard a space station is demonstrating the use of a repair patch to seal a leak. Just as he completes the explanation, the station is struck by a meteorite and everybody gets in everybody else's way until somebody takes charge and applies the patch. Except for one student, who remains quietly in his seat, and explains afterward that the chances of the station actually being struck were minimal. The chances of it happening just as the instructor had finished speaking were so near zero that it had to be a set-up. This did not make him any more popular with the rest of the class.
- In the Vorkosigan Saga, the Barrayarran Imperial Academy pulls these regularly, to the point where all trainees have to wear armbands signifying how many times they've been 'killed' or 'wounded' in said exercises. Miles went the longest in his year before receiving any armbands.
Live Action TV
- Spooks did this in the VX episode, which ended up with the exercise stopping just as Tom Quinn shot the visiting assessor (fortunately it was a blank). At the end of the episode, a real alert flashed up...
- Justified (?) The assessor was trying to leave a sealed environment and thus by shooting him Tom proved he was able to go to any lengths to do the right (if somewhat morally questionable) thing.
- That could arguably be seen as the definitive moment when Tom passes the test.
- Stargate SG-1: "Proving Ground"; twists things a step further by staging a second Training Accident at the reveal of the first one.
- This is an interesting example, because it turns out at the end that one member of the team being trained was actually already graduated and in on the plot.
- In another episode, this happens as an actual accident. A group of Jaffa are being trained by Apophis to infiltrate the SGC. They get their training weapons mixed up with real ones, and when they go on another exercise, one of them is badly injured by a real gun. The recruits assume that means they're ready. Fortunately, the plot is averted.
- Also inverted in the episode "Avatar." The audience don't know it's a training simulation at first, but it is revealed about two minutes into the episode. All the characters are completely aware of the true scenario from the start. During the training scenario, things go wrong for real and Teal'c nearly dies. Daniel deliberately puts himself at risk as well to help solve the problem, but the two of them are in very real danger until the scenario ends.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
- "Thine Own Self", a Good Troi Episode that does this arguably when Troi is forced to make an impossible choice in her commander-rank exam. The only way to save the ship in that scenario was to be willing to send a friend to his death in order to stop the disaster in time. Although she knew it was an exam, and a simulation, the whole way through.
- Wesley Crusher faces such a situation during his Starfleet Academy entrance exam in the episode "Coming of Age".
- The Unit does this repeatedly in a Flash Back in Season 2, Episode 8 "Natural Selection". It climaxes when Bob Brown is put in the spotlight for letting another Ranger in Selection (for the Unit) die through negligence and selfishness. Just kidding! He was all right the whole time. It did this previously in Season 1, Episode 2, where SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training turns from drill to seriously-life-threatening real life at the command of a sociopathic psychologist employed by the DoD, although no one doubted after a short time that it was all calculated.
- It pulls it again in Season 4, when a new member joins (a civilian apparently dies during a black training mission. This sort of thing appears to be SOP.
- Lennier went through this on Babylon 5 as part of his Ranger training.
- JAG: In "Force Recon", Harm is sent undercover as a Gunny to investigate a Marine captain who is suspected of exposing his recon marines to dangerous situations, such training in an area with live artillery shells hitting the ground.
- In one sixth season episode of NCIS, the team was attempting to move explosives through air port security as a test- apparently. It was actually to smoke out The Mole.
- In Caprica, one episode revolves around a group of Soldiers of the One trainees having their shuttle hijacked by a rival group of fundamentalists who threaten to kill the trainees unless they denounce the One God and pledge themselves to the Colonial Gods, killing any trainee who does not convert. At the end, it is revealed that the whole thing was a test of loyalty and the hijackers were part of the Soldiers Of the One who staged the killings of the ones that stayed loyal to their cause. They proceed to execute the disloyal trainees for real.
- One of the pre-built quests in the base rulebook of Mutants & Masterminds is this. A bit of a subversion, though, in that the scenario is designed so that the players will always fail. The reveal occurs right when the world is about to be destroyed.
- Parodied in the game Band of Bugs, where, during the tutorial segment, you're supposedly under attack... but this has absolutely no effect on the rather routine training, except a few harmless explosions and a "real" enemy who's such a painfully obvious fake that the truth is apparent shortly before The Reveal.
- While not part of the game itself, Metal Gear Solid 2's Dead Cell group, the antagonists/Foxhound stand-ins, were originally a government group that tested the preparedness of a facility for a terrorist attack in this fashion.
- Actually The entire Big Shell part of the game WAS a training exercise. For Raiden. Admittedly, all the deaths were real and it was later subverted by Solidus and Ocelot, but the plan was to train Raiden to see if he could become another Snake.
- And then subverted when that's what the Patriots told Ocelot, but it was actually a training exercise for their new S3 process (Ocelot thought it stood for Solid Snake Simulation, but it actually stands for Selection for Societal Sanity). They deliberately created a massive, impossible-to-ignore incident (in this case, crashing Arsenal Gear into midtown Manhattan) so that they could test whether or not they have good enough control of information to prevent people from freaking out. They then point out that because they control information, one individual soldier, no matter how good he might be, is of no consequence to them.
- Also, they have really good boss battle music.
- Happens during Raz's training session with Sasha Nein in Psychonauts. Sasha offers Raz an implicit choice between safe-but-boring Level Grinding or a fast-and-dangerous Boss Battle, fully expecting him to do the latter. Then the boss goes totally out of control... Later, you learn that this was a bona fide Training Accident, as Sasha actually lost control until Raz rescued him. Cue "You passed, Rasputin. Now, Let Us Never Speak of This Again".
- The Mechwarrior 4 tutorial mission ends with an announcement that a hostile Mech is attacking the base and the player is the only one available to stop him. The player is actually Genre Savvy enough to ask whether this is the trope. The trainer assures him it is not.
- During World War II, the German U-boat service would arrange for some of the crew aboard a new boat on its shakedown cruise to stage an accident — sometimes without the knowledge of the officers.
- On the other side, the British Naval training commandant, Adm. Gilbert O. Stephenson was famous for cooking up creative simulations for his cadets.
- Tiger Teams, teams chosen to try and breach security of secure facilities without the knowledge of facility personnel, will sometimes use planned training exercises as cover to pull off their (non-violent) attacks to see how the security will react.
- Likewise, the United States' Federal Aviation Administration's equivalent, "Red Teams," will do this to try and smuggle firearms or explosives past airport screeners.
- The FAA and TSA are also known to test regional airports, although in different manners.
- Some fire departments, when conducting normally routine fire drills in places such as schools, will intentionally add unexpected events to see how the staff react: for instance, secretly arranging to have some kids hide in the bathroom during an evacuation, to see whether the teachers notice and what they do.